March: This Month in Nuclear Threat History

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March: This Month in Nuclear Threat History


March 1, 1982 – President Ronald Reagan watched the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center rehearse a full-scale nuclear exchange between the United States and Soviet Union. Thousands of red dots appeared on the map of the United States, each indicating the impact of thermonuclear warheads on U.S. territory and each symbolizing the resulting deaths and injuries of hundreds of millions of Americans. The same was true for the map of the Soviet Union. The 40th President eventually pronounced that, “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” (Source: Craig Nelson. “The Age of Radiance.” New York: Simon & Shuster, 2014, p. 328.)

March 3, 1980 – The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials, which set out levels of physical protection during the transport of nuclear materials and established a framework of international cooperation in the recovery and return of stolen nuclear material, was signed at U.N. Headquarters in New York City on this date, ratified by the U.S. on December 13, 1982 and by the Soviet Union of May 25, 1983, and entered into force on February 8, 1987. Comments: These and other agreements could be substantially strengthened with the multilateral negotiation and ratification of a comprehensive fissile materials elimination agreement and an international campaign, ideally initiated by President Barack Obama, to phase out and clean up all global civilian nuclear power generating plants as well as all global nuclear weapons production facilities by the year 2030. (Source: Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahame, editors. “Arms Control Chronology.” Washington, DC: Center for Defense Information, 2002, p. 64.)

March 10, 1956 – A U.S. Air Force B-47 bomber, carrying two capsules of payload pits for nuclear warheads, crashed and was lost at sea while flying from MacDill Air Force Base, Florida to a NATO base in Western Europe. Comments: This incident represents yet another example of hundreds of nuclear accidents, near-misses, and “Broken Arrows,” only some of which the Pentagon and other members of the Nuclear Club have formally acknowledged. (Source: Eric Schlosser. “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Safety.” New York: Penguin Press, 2013.)

March 11, 1985 – After the demise of Konstantin Chernenko, Mikhail Gorbachev was selected to serve as General Secretary of the Communist Party Central Committee (and eventually as President of the Soviet Union).   This new generation Soviet leader promoted glasnost (“openness”) and perestroika (“restructuring”) and other reforms including reductions in the size of the Soviet military. On March 24, 1985, Gorbachev wrote the first of a series of letters to President Reagan pleading for peaceful coexistence. On January 15, 1986, he announced a three-stage proposal to eliminate nuclear weapons by the year 2000 but, influenced by hardline advisors, President Reagan rejected this plan. Eventually both sides, including Reagan’s successor George H. W. Bush, signed the START I treaty and the Soviet Union was dissolved in December 1991. The Cold War was over. Gorbachev accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 and retired from politics. In January of 2015, Gorbachev warned that the current confrontation between NATO and Russia in Ukraine could trigger an all-out war. “I can no longer say that this Cold War will not lead to a ‘Hot War’,” he said, “I fear that they (U.S./E.U., Ukraine, and Russian governments) could risk it.”   Comments: The risks of nuclear war are as high as ever and yet politicians, pundits, and so-called “experts” on both sides continually downgrade and disregard the threat of Omnicide. (Source: Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahame, editors. “Arms Control Chronology.” Washington, DC: Center for Defense Information, 2002, pp. 30-31.)

March 12, 1995America’s Defense Monitor, a half-hour documentary PBS-TV series that premiered in 1987, released a new film, “Managing America’s Nuclear Complex” produced by the Center for Defense Information, a non-partisan, nonprofit organization and independent monitor of the Pentagon, founded in 1972, whose board of directors and staff included retired military officers (Rear Admiral Eugene Carroll, Jr.), former U.S. government officials (Philip Coyle, who served as assistant secretary of defense), and civilian experts (Dr. Bruce Blair, a former U.S. Air Force nuclear missile launch control officer). The program discussed issues associated with the underfunded (then and now) cleanup of dozens of major sites (such as Fernald, Ohio, Hanford, Washington, Paducah, Kentucky, and Oak Ridge, Tennessee) and hundreds of smaller Pentagon and Department of Energy installations involved in nuclear weapon production. Comments: Today, there remain serious concerns about the continuing health and environmental risks of not only these military nuclear sites but of nearly one hundred civilian nuclear power reactors and the accompanying infrastructure including the flawed Waste Isolation Pilot Plant nuclear waste storage site near Carlsbad, New Mexico.

March 15, 1954 – Although President Dwight Eisenhower later rejected a Joint Chiefs of Staff Advanced Study Group recommendation that the United States, “deliberately precipitate (nuclear) war with the U.S.S.R. in the near future…before the U.S.S.R. could achieve a large enough thermonuclear capability to be a real menace to the continental U.S.,” on this date, consistent with that study, a Strategic Air Command briefing given by General Curtis LeMay advocated the use of 600-750 atomic bombs in a two-hour period so that, “all of Russia would be nothing but a smoking radioactive ruin.” (Source: Richard Rhodes. “Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb.” New York: Simon & Shuster, 1996, pp. 563-564.)

March 21, 1997 – At the Helsinki Summit, Presidents William Clinton and Boris Yeltsin issued a Joint Statement on the Parameters of Future Reductions in Nuclear Forces with significant START II reductions to 2,000 to 2,500 deployed strategic nuclear warheads by December 31, 2007 and with a bilateral goal of making the START treaties permanent. Presidents Obama and Medvedev reduced strategic nuclear weapons further in the New START Treaty however, despite Obama’s April 2009 Prague speech rhetoric about eliminating nuclear weapons, both nations have recently proposed increased spending for nuclear weapons, laboratory upgrades, and a new generation of launch platforms with the U.S. potentially spending $1 trillion in the next 30 years. (Sources: Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahame, editors. “Arms Control Chronology.” Washington, DC: Center for Defense Information, 2002, pp. 40-44, and mainstream and alternative news media reports from November 2014-February 2015.)

March 26, 1999 – With the start of the NATO campaign of air strikes against Bosnian Serb forces, the Russian Duma postponed a vote on the START II Treaty (which was later ratified on April 14, 2000 by a vote of 288-131).   Comments: Just as today, NATO considers direct Russian military intervention in Ukraine a violation of the 35-nation August 1975 Helsinki Final Act, so too did Russia consider NATO military action against her Serbian allies in the Balkans as a similar violation of the 1975 agreement to prevent future nation-state conflict in Europe.   The U.S., NATO, Russia, and Ukraine all need to make major concessions to de-escalate the current Ukraine Crisis, which could conceivably trigger a wider European war or even a nuclear conflict!   (Source: Jack Mendelsohn and David Grahame, editors. “Arms Control Chronology.” Washington, DC: Center for Defense Information, 2002, pp. 42, 119.)

March 28, 1979 – A partial meltdown of two reactors at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania near Harrisburg was one of the most serious nuclear accidents in history. It caused a massive release of radioactive products endangering residents in the region in the immediate aftermath and for decades after this incident. The “cleanup” of the accident between August 1979 and December 1993 cost taxpayers approximately $1 billion.   The incident came four years after the Norman C. Rasmussen-chaired Nuclear Regulatory Commission-sponsored report (designated “WASH-1400”), which downgraded the nuclear accident consequences noted in previous government and nongovernmental reports.   German-American nuclear physicist Hans Bethe (1906-2005) wrote an article in the January 1976 edition of Scientific American, which provided a more realistic threat assessment of a catastrophic nuclear reactor meltdown than the Rasmussen Report. Bethe’s analysis concluded that a serious nuclear accident would claim 3,300 prompt fatalities, create 45,000 instances of early radiation illness, impact 240,000 individuals with cancerous thyroid nodules over a 30-year period, produce 45,000 latent cancer fatalities over the same time period, and trigger approximately 30,000 genetic defects spanning a 150-year period. His estimated cost (in 1976 dollars) of such an accident was $14 billion. Comments: In addition to the dangerous risk of nuclear power plant accidents like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, the tremendously out-of-control civilian and military nuclear waste sequestration, remediation, and permanent storage conundrum, as well as the terrorist targeting potential, the economic unsustainability of civilian nuclear power, and the potential for nuclear proliferation points logically to an accelerated phase-out of global civilian nuclear power plants over the next decade. (Sources: “14 Year Cleanup at Three Mile Island Concludes.” New York Times. Aug. 15, 1993 accessed on February 6, 2015 at and various news media reports.)

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